Will China punish UK for giving award to Chen Guangcheng?


Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng at New York University on May 19, 2012.


Andy Jacobsohn

HONG KONG — A little more than one year after he bravely escaped illegal house arrest in China for the United States, blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng has become a much bigger thorn in the side of his native country's Communist Party regime.

"I think they're in a state of madness," he said last week in an interview last week with Buzzfeed in Oslo, Norway.

Chen, who initially said he wished to return to China as soon as possible, has become one of the Chinese government's most outspoken critics, calling for America and the EU to pressure China to adhere to its own laws and uphold human rights.

Now, the British Parliament's decision this week to give Chen a Westminster Award in recognition of his fight for "human rights, human life and human dignity" is likely to make Chen's activism a diplomatic issue between the UK and China.

Relations were already rocky between the two powers after Prime Minister David Cameron had to cancel an April trip to China because top officials refused to meet with him. Beijing was presumably angry with Cameron for meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader whom China has branded a "wolf in sheep's clothing," last year.

Chen Guangcheng's visit to the UK has included a blitz of media appearances with the BBC, London Telegraph, and Channel 4. In a Guardian op-ed co-written with Edward McMillan-Scott, Chen criticized Western governments that have "stood by" as authoritarian regimes like China's "engage in systematic repression with impunity."

These were relatively gentle words compared to his remarks in Oslo last month, when Chen called Communism a "scam" and called on the international community to deny visas to top-level officials associated with human rights abuses.

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